My Last Will and Testament

“I Want to Die” is still the most popular search term that takes people to this blog.

A couple of things about the above sentence.

First off, it’s a lie. “James  Altucher” is the most popular. “Altucher” might be the second most popular. But for phrases that don’t include “Altucher” then “I want to die” is first. By a factor of 4:1 over "Mark Cuban" and "alternatives to college". And then, surprisingly, "magic" and for some reason, "pearl harbor".

Next, the word “popular” is weird. It’s true. The phrase “I want to die” is popular. But not in the way “Britney Spears” was at one time “popular” or that Andy Warhol does “pop art”. It’s a twisted version of popular. Where numbers are used to define popularity, as they often are in our society. How much money do you have? What are your traffic numbers? How many touchdowns did you make last year? How much square footage in your house? How many delegates does Mitt Romney have? We are defined by the numbers around us. Try to spend a day without thinking about numbers. It’s hard. Nevertheless, “I want to die” is very popular on my blog.

Finally, why does that search term take people to my blog. I offer no techniques for killing oneself.

They don’t really want to die. The real person inside is a little boy or girl who wants to play outside with her friends, who wants to be kissed and touched, who wants to feel relaxed from the many problems that plague them. We all have the seeds of a little mental illness around us. The mental illness is a wall without windows and we feel trapped inside the room. Death seems the only exit.

We need techniques to open a window. Look outside. At the snow. At the beach. At the sun. At the birds.

I’m going to die. If I had to predict, it will be of heart disease in about forty years. That’s a guess. But why not guess. I know I won’t die in a car crash. Or a plane crash. I am hardly ever in those two vehicles. I won’t die of smoking related diseases. Perhaps I will die of some form of liver failure since whenever I have a toothache I take pain killers which affect the liver. I’m on the lookout for stroke since that’s how my father died. But heart disease seems like a natural killer for me.

(popularity and fame are fleeting, as Britney Spears realized)

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So it’s about time I write my last will and testament to my kids. They already will have everything materially from me. That stuff doesn’t matter to me.

But here are some other things I hope I can give them:

  1. Be kind. In thought, action, and speech. Action is obvious (e.g. don’t hit someone). Speech is a little harder (e.g. don’t gossip about someone behind their back). Thought is even harder but protects you from the other two.
  2. Be honest.  All the time. Not even a  white lie. This is really hard. For instance, if I can’t go to meet with someone, it’s very hard to tell the truth but I do. I don’t say, “I don’t want to meet you”. Nor do I lie by saying the universally accepted lie, “I’m sick.” Usually I want to meet people. I like having friends. But I’m a bit of a shut-in. So I need to say what’s really on my mind, “I have to write today.” Or, “I have to prepare for XYZ project today.” And then it’s up to them to accept it. There’s other ways we lie. Sometimes there are big ways. But bit by bit I’ve been eliminating those big ways from my life.
  3. Don’t be  possessive. I think I’m possessive. I don’t think I would like it if Claudia were to leave me, for instance. I’d probably try to force her to stay with me. I’m trying to practice not being possessive. Every day I throw something out, even things that for years I have loved. Like a good comic book or a book of stories I loved but can now easily get on Kindle. Or a shirt with holes that has easily passed its time. Gone.
  4. Be content. I don’t have a billion dollars. And I don’t have zero. Sometimes I give up on opportunities to make a lot more money. I debate with myself: should I do it for my kids. Should I do it because…that’s what one does – make money in our society. But sometimes it’s good to stop for a bit. To be happy with exactly what you have today and nothing more or nothing less.
  5. Surrender. You can’t control everything. You might get fired. You might get cheated on. You might win the lottery. You might not be an Olympic athlete. You might not have any good choices for lunch today. Sometimes you just need to surrender, “this is it. I trust that my subconscious/superconscious/the universe/spirit/whatever will take care of me like it always has.”  What happens when you can’t surrender? It’s that wall again. It needs a window if you want to see the world outside. Surrender builds the window. A sense of surrender to all the things in the world we don’t understand or can't control is the highest form of good you can do. One way to practice surrender is by being grateful for what you do have. Every thought of gratitude opens a window.
  6. Daily Practice. Do it.

Everything else is a fight. If you want money, you have to fight to get it. Then you have to fight to keep it. If you want people to talk about you, then don’t forget that they will also talk bad about you. If you want love forever, then don’t forget that love can be lost. And just like I am going to die, so will you, and whatever children you end up having.

But I lied again. I can’t give you the above six things, the way I leave you a chair, or a plant, or a book. I don’t think I really have them to give. I can just leave you those words. Nor can I control you to follow them. If you want to be mean, who am I to stop you?

But I don’t want you to worry like I have worried. I don’t want you wake up in the middle of the night, with all the thoughts bouncing around your head while you think, “I am mentally ill. I can’t get out of the pain in my head.” I don’t want people to hate you. I don’t want you to hate people or be angry at people who may have wronged you. If you follow the above six things it will lessen your chances of having a night like that. I can promise that.

I’m asking for a lot. I know. Maybe most of all I don’t want you to find this post by searching “I Want to Die” in Google.

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  • for personal reasons, i never read it. 

    • Roy

      James…woulc love to see some short videos with your wisdom being made for us….


      would create a more feeling of closeness for your readers…..maybe videos of your city…where you play chess…your old house etc etc etc

  • James Ford

    A sunday post? And on a day where we lost an hour? I guess that’s how you write several books. My Thursday Q&A question for you now–have you ever felt the need to quell your ambition to be happier?

    •  I think when I’ve been obsessed with money or combating loneliness, it conflicted with the actual goal of being happier.

  • Anonymous

    “… But I lied again. I can’t give you the above six things, the way I leave
    you a chair, or a plant, or a book. I don’t think I really have them to
    give. I can just leave you those words. Nor can I control you to follow
    them. If you want to be mean, who am I to stop you?…”

    The Budha, Jesus, left a lot of words of wisdom and after more than 2000 years, most of us, me included, still don’t get it.  I guess when we forget we can only hope to learn from our mistakes, and then hopefully heed the words. As an Ethiopian proverb says “Advise and counsel him; if he does not listen, let adversity teach him.”

  • Todd

    I like the “surrender” tip. I’m a public school teacher and I want to stop what corporations are doing to try and destroy our schools. Should I just surrender and look out for myself and my kids?

    • Anonymous

      I think I kinda understand where James was coming from when he wrote that.  Like most words of wisdom, it’s paradoxical.  Consider a bible verse “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths”  Does that mean we stop analyzing and stop using our intellect in our daily life, especially when confronted with major challenges? I don’t think that’s the case, but that verse rings true to me. But then again I am not a devout Christian. So, I am in no position to be able to explain it intellegently.

    •  Yes. Don’t worry about corporations. A society is made up of individuals. None of us are perfect. Make yourself as much of a beacon of light as possible. In the end, if everyone does that (and more will do it by seeing your example) then the things you worry about will wither away.

  • Hunter

    I have read dozens of articles on this site.  They have started to change my life over the last two months. I have shared this site with every single person I am close to, and I know that several of them now follow it, because they will occasionally write to me about a post, and I know that they in turn have shared this inspirational and entertaining resource.  Interestingly, what James reported as being the most popular search term that brought people to his site…is exactly what I Googled to bring me here.  This is the first time I felt compelled to comment, even though I have probably read hundreds of comments from all you, fellow followers of this blog, and I must admit that the comments are often as enlightening and inspiring as James’ original post.  I don’t know how he attracted such an incredible group, but I feel thankful, because you have all given me hope.  Thank you, and please keep the articles and comments coming; whether you know it or not, you are all out there quietly and unknowingly saving lives.  I’m still here…

  • Looks like a good will to me. Short, concise, to the point. Cheers for life!

  • Bill Wilson famously said that if AA members did not have a supernatural deity to which they could surrender, they could simply submit themselves to GOD – the Group Of Drunks.  That’s how strongly he felt about this idea of surrender.  So strongly in fact that he made it #3 on his twelve step journey to sobriety, right behind acknowledging powerlessness over alcohol and  acknowledging that a power greater than the individual can restore the alcoholic to sanity.  The obvious contradiction didn’t seem to trouble Bill nor his many friends. 

    But it should have.  AA is an abject failure.  Optimistic experts peg success rates for 12-step programs at 5-10%.  Set aside the fact that AA instills a host of other addictions – cigarettes, coffee, self-flagellation – AA fails so often because it relies on an ancient method of problem-solving that isn’t really problem-solving at all – submission. 

    Human beings evolved to believe in a higher-power.  Believers were more cooperative because they believed their God would seek retribution for the wrongs they might commit.  Consequently they worked together, followed the rules and passed on this trait-of-belief to all of us.  Today this characteristic which was once our greatest strength has now become a great weakness.   Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

    As James says, we cannot control everything.  Those of us who refuse to submit to anything do not believe we can.  On the contrary, we acknowledge that there are many things we cannot control.  But here’s the important point…. we also acknowledge that we human beings are really bad at differentiating the two.  We’re bad at it for a reason. 

    That trait-of-belief, the one that’s been passed down generation to generation, causes us to make lots of mistakes when trying to determine whether we have control or not.  Said another way, we tend to err on the side that things are beyond-our-control precisely because we are predisposed to believe in a higher power.

    Surrendering to a Group of Drunks or the universe or to the things we believe (today) we cannot control does indeed represent a widow.  It is the window many sneak out to avoid confronting problems and testing to see if they might have some influence, some effect, some small shred of control over them.  For every person who pokes their head out this window in order to stop banging it against the steering-wheel of futility, there are twenty who jump out entirely and implore Jesus to take the wheel. 

  • Rachel

    I’ve been reading your blog for less than a month, I think, and forwarded it to my ex-husband right away to make sure he was on board with the possibility of no college for our daughter. “that guy writes a great blog” was his response. And I’m quoting him because he died last Tuesday. Totally unexpectedly, perhaps of heart failure or maybe slow onset angina, but out of the blue, for all concerned. And although on one hand it was the second worst thing that could happen to our daughter, on the other hand this sudden death has left us with such huge gifts…I wanted to share a couple of them. At some point, in the tumult and crashing in of our triangle, I asked my daughter, “So in all this, what would you say is important?” She is 15. She said, “Being happy with your life.” And I said, “In retrospect?” and she said, “No. Happy with each moment. And having something to look forward to.”

    Also, among the things that kept us busy last week was cleaning out his stuff–my daughter urged me to throw away as much as possible because, she said, “When you die, I’m not going to want to do this again.” We found a lot of change that her dad had kept, so we took it in and got about $140, which felt like such a coup. There was a handful of uncounted change left and she asked, “Mom, can I just fling this into the street?” –in that moment a part of me worried about her sanity. I asked her why. “Because,” she said, “You know how happy people get when they find money on the ground? I’m thinking I could make a lot of people happy.” So I let her fling the change. We laughed through tears.

    And last, we were on the way to his funeral and stopped at his house just to go through his stuff and see what he was last doing on his computer and friend a few people from his facebook account because…we are amused by things like that. So I was glancing through his files and found one called, “I feel like I’m waiting to die.” And I read that; it was a paragraph long and said that his daughter was up and running, he’d never really make money again like he once did (as a trader), and that the little things of life really didn’t hold much joy. It was written six months ago.

    And in that moment, and in the moments since, I have really seen how we project things onto each other, especially those we love, and especially those we no longer love like we once did. I really saw how I hadn’t seen him, truly, in ages. I saw how when I looked at or thought of him, it was, “Here is a guy who is NOT supporting his daughter,” and when I spoke to him it was, “By the way, your daughter eats and wears shoes, and how about paying for some of it,” and really when I look at my life as it is now and will be from now on, I see there is nowhere for the projections to land. I have no one to blame if I miss a deadline or if I don’t fill out the social security death benefits or if my daughter’s cell phone service stops…it’s just me. Such a gift, to see how much blame I heaped on him, and to see that it wasn’t that he was not even trying, it was that here was a man who just could not act…anymore. Why even blame him? –out of habit. How many other people do I not truly see because I’ve decided who they are and who they aren’t? He and I are both now liberated; me from the projections and him from a life he was apparently too exhausted to fully live.

    Anyway, during the last week when I’ve been in the haze of death decisions and funerals, it crossed my mind to wonder what James Altucher has been writing about…and I go investigate, and it’s about death! Such fulfilling synchronicity; I love when that happens.

    • That was really moving. Thank you for sharing it. Your daughter sounds like a wonderful young lady by the way. :)

    •  Rachel, thanks for sharing that. I’m really sorry about what happened to your ex. Sounds like deep down he knew something was happening. Also sounds like your 15 year old daughter is amazing. You are a good mother.

    • Noob_cyborg

      I am sorry for your daughters loss; it’s sad that more people weren’t nice to him. Maybe it’s fulfilling synchronicity to you, but my lord, this man was suffering and you heaped a lot of blame on him. I don’t see him as being liberated; but instead, a tragic loss of human life because not enough helping hands were extended. 

      I doubt you were just glancing through his files; you should respect his privacy.

      I am concerned you quickly worried about your daughters sanity in the example you used. 

      Relevant ”
       He then cited the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They lay heavy burdens upon the people but would not do anything to make the load lighter. Their own works were done to be observed by men rather than God.
       ‘And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted’ ” 

      • Uh, Noob?  I just don’t think you’ve made Rachel’s “load lighter” at all.  In fact, you judged her, and everyone around him.  I found your post to be ironically hypocritical.

        And I doubt he’ll mind the loss of privacy, he’s not around to feel hurt.  It seems likely that she was the executor of his estate and had the responsibility to go through his things.  If he didn’t want that, he could have said it in his will.

        • Noob_Cyborg

          “Such a gift, to see how much blame I heaped on him, and to see that it wasn’t that he was not even trying, it was that here was a man who just could not act…anymore. Why even blame him? –out of habit. How many other people do I not truly see because I’ve decided who they are and who they aren’t?

          He and I are both now liberated; me from the projections and him from a life he was apparently too exhausted to fully live. ” – Rachel——————————————————-Yes I judged. She passed judgment and said he was liberated from a life he was too exhausted to fully live. This goes against EVERYTHING James writes about. I have been down on my luck before, as many of the other readers have, as well. There is a way back from that darkness. So to haphazardly say that wow; what a great thing it is that he’s free now. She said she’s done with the projections and then stated herself, that she questioned her daughters sanity.She tried to connect to James in painting her husband as in a negative light by saying, (when he was queried about not sending her daughter to college) he only responded with ‘that guy writes a great blog’. The way this is presented; it paints him in a negative light by saying he didn’t take that seriously and was insinuating why trust a blogger’s opinion. Something she thought he’d respect, a good way to catch attention.She just called him her “ex”; that’s ‘distancing language’. Didn’t give him a name but named how much money she reaped from the change he left around. My heart is broken that this man was in agony for 6 months and was repeatedly viewed as a culprit, or bad guy.

          • Rachel

            Noob? Do you see that everything you’re writing is projections? And judgments? I’m sorry I was not more explicit with details last night but it was midnight and I was intending to keep it brief and really just connect with James and say YES! WRITE ON!  Barrett’s mom, sisters, daughter, other relatives actually appreciated that I went into his files; he and I were close and he often sent me his musings and my intuition was that he would have written something down, and he did, and people were relieved to hear that. I’m not sure why you think I had mal-intentions. My sense of him is that the logistics of physical life had worn him down and that in physical death his spirit was liberated and is alive in a way that it wasn’t before–that’s my experience and no need for you to agree.  I want to mention that I wasn’t trying to paint him in a negative light to James; I was wanting to say that he and I connected in our enjoyment of James’ blog in general, not just in his opinions about college. Also–I used the term “insane” about my daughter lightly, amusedly; she is one of the sanest people I know, but I had no idea why she wanted to fling spare change…seemed a bit odd. Sorry to be so unclear.

          • C Pennybrown

            Rachel I don’t think Noob cyborg read you at all correctly.  I got your use of the word “insane” applied to your daughter in an ironic, affectionate way.  I got your reference to your ex’s  response to the Jame’s blog as pure esteem.  And for the record, I don’t think the word “ex” is a distancing mechanism.  It’s a common term, no?

            In short I found Noob’s belittling response to your post pretty horofic.

            If I had guess, I would say Noob perhaps has had a bad experience with his one ex-wife and he’s projected  this bad on to you.  

            I don’t understand why people can’t be kinder.  Especially when they don’t have all the facts.  

          • Noob_Cyborg

            You don’t have all the facts either, yet you completely side with someone who said this:

            He and I are both now liberated  me from the projections and him from a life he was apparently too exhausted to fully live.”
            This is a tragedy!!! Not a liberation. 

            I am very nice; and go out of my way to help people. No projections here sir. 

            Ex is certainly a distancing word. Just because it’s a common term doesn’t mean it’s not what it is. Being common has nothing to do with it. 

            She said he had a FB message that claimed he felt this way 6 months before his passing. Emotionally starving with each day. Don’t fool yourself into thinking being agreeable = kindness. There are two sides to every story; yet you, C Pennybrown; take one at face value even though there was the comment made that him dying was a liberation. That’s the most unkind thing in the world to say! 

    • Malibusean

      I think James should do a whole article on you and your life. We could all learn.

  • Jquick99

     For my blog it’s my 2 line comment on how you will never see a man driving a PT Cruiser. 

  • Brett

    Each blog is worse then the next… Which is impressive because they started off pretty bad.

  • Won.Ton.

    The possessiveness interests me. I know I am not possessive – the girl left me few months ago and there was no forcing to stay, no fighting, no “guilting”, no shaming, no phonecalls, no messages and other forms of making other person life after break-up miserable. I let her go whatever way she wanted and accepted this. Still, that said, I feel bad with it, after some time spent. It is not “killing me”, but from time to time I think that I would prefer that she stayed and it hurts me that she left. So what is this? Is it “proper deeds ain’t no easy” thing and one just has to suck it up and keep on moving on, or am I missing something?

    •  I think its natural to feel loss. To mourn loss. You are good for not forcing anything. but of course something that caused you pleasure also causes sadness when it/she leaves. This is the problem of living. Everything we want, has a flip side.

  • Love your thoughts on surrendering…I strive to live by that principle as well.

    Choose your destination…stay alert for opportunities…execute when they show up…leave the infinite details to the higher power.

  • Can I have your iPad then ?

    • Sure. but its cracked all over. Even in the Apple store the employees crowded around and one said, “Man you are HARD..CORE!”

  • Ben

    You mentioned taking meds for a tooth ache. Check this out:

    Dude found notes written in the 1920’s about how he gave patients Vitamin D3 to reverse tooth decay with amazing results. I don’t follow his recommended diet at all and only take D3 supplements and after a few months of tooth aches, my teeth feel mighty fine. 

  • That was beautiful.

  • Surrendering and believing in pursuing our dreams conflict a lot sometimes. How do we know when to surrender?

    • James Altucher

      Always surrender. Surrender gets you your dreams.

      • Anonymous

        James, that statement rings true to me, but frankly I find it paradoxical and often confusing, just like many other timeless wisdom and proverbs.

        It seems to me that one has to do BOTH AT THE SAME TIME, ie pursue the dream fearlessly and shamelessly (ala the spanx women) WHILE always surrendering (being grateful and accepting whatever the outcome is or will be). Could you elaborate a bit more? 

        Thx for the post as always

  • I do not want to die.

  • I was typing out a reply and it got a little long, and a little off topic I suppose, so I turned it into a blog post on how awesome your blog is James. haha 

  • Anonymous

    My father was 50 when he died, my mother was 55 (both of colon cancer).  My best friend was killed when we were freshman in college.  My mom once told me, “the older you get, the more people die.” She was right.

    Last Thursday my neighbor took advantage of the beautiful weather by going for a bike ride.  She never made it home.  She was hit by a car and died last night.  She left behind a husband and 3 children ages 11, 9, and 7.  She was 45.  My wife is devastated, as am I.  

    All the money in the world could not have helped my parents, nor could it have helped my neighbor.  Appreciate life for what it is and be happy with where you are, what you have. 

    Although I am very comfortable with death, I am not ready to die either.  

    I look forward to hugging my wife and kids every day. 

    I am glad I found this blog.

  • Lord, I thank you because things are not going my way.
                                                             Saint Francesca Cabrini

    Someone who could surrender.

  • C Pennybrown

    I think a lot about how I would want to die and I’ve decided a heart attack is among the very best deaths.  And therefor I am dumbfounded by the hordes of people who submit to bypass surgery (which has never been shown in a placebo trial to extend life) and who get pace makers put in which just tilts the odds that they will die of Alzheimer’s or cancer or some other scourge that comes with advanced age.

    A doctor in Oregon who was responsible for getting the state to pass its Assisted Suicide Act had the occasion to use the law on himself recently.  He took great comfort in knowing that when he chose, he could administer a quick acting sedative.  He died painless in less than 30 minutes.

    We should all be lucky.  And thankfully, if we live in Oregon  – and now Washington state and Montana – we can.

    The silly, mindless taboo against euthansia has got to end.

  • Malibusean

    been reading your posts, I really appreciate it. I think you are one of the sane ones in the world and a majority is mentally ill. Like really, you have to go to Disnetland every year with you kids on vacation? For the amount of money you spend you could easily go to Europe (or put x country in its place)  and experience a whole new culture and learn something about yourself. Imagine the possibilities.

  • sassybella19

    Ummm Britney Spears is STILL popular. She’s on the X Factor now with a $15 million year contract. Her latest album that came out last year had 4 top ten hits. And her tour for that album took in $69 mm (which beat out Lady Gaga & Katy Perry’s tours).  Just sayin’….

    PS-love your blog

  • Zardoz123

    Spooky James. Today I signed my Will (I have one child who is 13) and then a few hours later I read your post. It is beautiful and gave me a sense of peace James. You have made yourself into one very good person James. I will share your piece with my daughter. I found these thoughts most meaningful for me. “…To be happy with exactly what you have today and nothing more or nothing less. Surrender. You can’t control everything…Sometimes you just need to surrender…A sense of surrender to all the things in the world we don’t understand or can’t control is the highest form of good you can do. One way to practice surrender is by being grateful for what you do have. Every thought of gratitude opens a window.” Thanks for this post. Keep blogging James. You are helping me and many others as well. Regards, Jorge

  • Isaac M. Goodwin

    Really nice list. Those were something that your kids can live on forever. But regarding physical things, it is really important to make a will in order to have control over the distribution of your assets. I have read this article somewhere on the net “Will Power.” As it stated, “you have worked hard to create a legacy for your loved ones. You deserve to decide what becomes of it.”